There had already been some significant discussion during the proposal phase about the types of questions that should be allowed on Mathematics Educators.

I just typed in a question which I had already asked during the proposal phase, not so much as a theoretical question that might be asked but mainly because I am currently still working on how best to answer it myself and actually do want to discuss it and consider other people's ideas on the associated problem.

Anyway, I was warned that it appeared subjective and that it would probably end up being closed. Are we really going to have to put up with that kind of feedback every time we ask a question here when the large part of the theory of Education is subjective?

I think we need to carry that discussion over and continue it here.

Let me emphasise that my situation was just one example that I can imagine will occur often on this particular site. I disagree with the answer below that we should limit the possibilities of this site to questions that can have clear cut answers or be afraid of being shut down because it's too opinion based. Education is largely opinion based.

If this site was shut down because it didn't fit the Stack Exchange mould I would have to start questioning what was the good of the Stack Exchange mould in the first place. I believe that this site should largely be moderated by experts in Mathematics Education. Leaders in Mathematics Education are by definition taking the lead in Mathematics Education.

During the proposal phase there was discussion about honesty in voting. Well, during the beta phase there should be honesty about what we believe our profession is about and ask questions and provide answers accordingly. If on this web site we have to avoid much of what we're about due to the opinions of the people who program the sites, then the tail is wagging the dog and I won't want to be a part of it.

Caveat: This is a semi apology to those offended by my forthrightness. Semi because I care, but I won't be changing my wording. I'm passionate about my views and won't be beating around the bush. A world that is purely rational and has no room for emotions has no room for me. And, ironically, the biggest criticism I face in my everyday non virtual world is that I'm too rational.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the sort of discussion you indicate is a big part of why I am hopeful for this exchange. I would like to be able to say post a syllabus for X and ask how someone else might modify the topic list. This question begs discussion, opinions and is (oh no) terribly localized. Yet, if you want to keep experts here, it would be wise to allow it. More or less, I want to be able to discuss with faculty at other schools how they craft courses etc... that is the honest truth. If it's too much work for me to do that within the legalism of the exchange, I'm out. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 4:09

2 Answers 2


One of the absolutely intriguing elements of this site is illustrated by this cartoon:

Texts reads 'Fields arranged by purity'. An arrow is shown pointing right with the text 'more pure'. Six people are shown representing six scientific fields. They stand on a scale of purity with the left end representing less purity and the right representing more purity. They appear in this order, from left to right: Sociology, Psychology, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics. The mathematician stands much further to the right than any other field.]

The actual topic of the site (eduction) sits far to the left. It's one part sociology and one part psychology. But the focus of the site stands alone on the right. Good math teachers (and I've had a few) must use soft skills to impart hard knowledge which is an unusual combination.

The comic is Exhibit A in a blog post that my colleague Robert Cartaino wrote: Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. I encourage you to read that post and to apply the six criteria he suggests:

  1. Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
  2. Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers.
  3. Great subjective questions have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
  4. Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions.
  5. Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.
  6. Great subjective questions are more than just mindless social fun.

I'm not a math teacher. I can't tell you what is the appropriate level of subjectivity. But I can tell you that we want this site to be a place for experts in the field to help each other become better at mathematics instruction. That might mean politely declining to field questions that do not meet enough of the above criteria.

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    $\begingroup$ None the less, a large chunk of what you say, has the potential to go against the standard SE mantras. I largely agree with your answer and therefore those SE mantras might need expanding. I am very opposed to the kinds of one size fits all education systems that have been developing all over the West during the last 40 years or so and it's well overdue time to the break the mould. We can't surely expect that one SE model will continue to fit the expanding number of SE sites. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ @GeoffPointer: I'd like to suggest that "the standard SE mantras" are generally the result of anti-patterns. If this site gets shut down, it will be because it fails to be an excellent place for math educators to ask and answer questions arising from their profession and not because it fails to conform to a particular model of education. (Especially if we didn't actually establish, design or approve the model. I can't tell if you have figured it out yet, but I'm a Stack Exchange employee. ;-) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ You're a moderator and this is a private beta, how else do you get to become a moderator at this stage? I learnt a long time ago to check documentation asap and I generally don't wait for things to become obvious. In this case, all I had to do was hover the cursor over your name the first time I saw it. Obvious didn't stand a chance. ;-) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ @JonEricson, you said education is "one part sociology and one part psychology." I would add that it's two parts politics too. Educators of children are very aware that the parents have goals and dreams for their kids which may not always match the educator's vision. Also, anyone dealing with K12 education (in the U.S. and many other countries) knows that politics is deforming the education system these days. *** Loved the comic. That plus your (edited?) description would make a great introduction to this site. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum Mod
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ @JonEricson, criterion #2 does not make sense to me. I'd rather read a short answer than a long answer, so I'd rather have questions that invite short answers than long ones. $\endgroup$
    – user173
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 9:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Matt F.: I encourage you to read the blog post, which justifies the preference. In essence, when the question is subjective, answers need to work a bit harder to demonstrate accuracy. For math questions, concise answers can often be complete. But for teaching questions, that's rarely the case. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ @JonEricson, I read the blog post, but I disagree on this. I like criteria # 1,3,4,5,6. $\endgroup$
    – user173
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ There are not defined answers to a lot of questions on pedagogy. I have even seen good answers with opposite takes where each was very helpful. I would resist over-moderating to remove this aspect. In general, I find most of the responses to be thoughtful and constructive. Shutting down too many questions (marking as duplicate when not really, etc.) makes the site worse, not better. There is probably a spectrum and some middle point needed. But right now too strict is the issue rather than too free. $\endgroup$
    – guest
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 20:52

Please note that Stackexchange is not for discussions. It is all about asking well defined quesitions that have answers which do not depend on opinion.

See: https://matheducators.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask.

I am not necessarily saying that your question doesn't have a definite answer. As a part of Stackexchange we are still trying to find where to stand on these issues.

I do think that we can run into the problem that many questions will have answers that are strongly dependent on opinion. And we don't want this to turn into a discussion forum. I would be afraid that Stackexchange would shut us down if we step out of line with the general philosophy behind Stackexchange.

Edit: Since you updated your meta question, I guess I will update my answer by saying that you have misrepresented my answer when you write

I disagree with the answer below that we should limit the possibilities of this site to questions that can have clear cut answers...

Note that I didn't say that. If you actually read what I had written you would hopefully get the impression that I am trying to point out the fact that Stackexchange is not about discussion. I didn't say that all questions have clear cut answers. That you hopefully can see. (As a sidenote, I don't know that it is proper for us to discuss this in this form of editing question and answer).

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    $\begingroup$ The fact remains that in the study of the process of Education there his much subjectivity. I don't see why this site can't work with that predominant element of subjectivity, given that sites like Philosophy.SE seem to work quite well. It's going to be a very limited scope of questioning if you remove that subjective element. I have a Science degree majoring in Mathematics and I have a post graduate diploma in Education. They each involved very different methods of assessment and in turn very different ways of studying in order to succeed. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ @GeoffPointer: I hope that you read my answer. I didn't say that the concrete question was off-topic. I pointed out the fact that Stackexchange isn't in general for discussion. The format is questions/answer. I don't think we can depart from this. I am afraid that we will be shut down if we do. On Philosophy.SE discussion also isn't encouraged: philosophy.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ I read your answer. I don't agree. The current plethora of theories on Education have not been boiled down to a series of clear cut questions with clear cut answers. A mathematics tutorial or a computer science tutorial is largely a very concrete experience with little or no disagreement and any discussion generally takes place around zooming in on an explanation of something very concrete. In contrast, in an education faculty tutorial, there is generally much disagreement and the tutor is a chairperson and referee rather than a teacher guiding people toward a concrete conclusion. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ @GeoffPointer: I completely agree that Education has not been reduced to a series of questions and answers. The point is that for it to be on-topic on Stackexchange, we need to push it in that direction. You brought up philosophy.SE, but I gave you the link that explains how even on philosophy.SE there is a restriction. This, obviously, means that there will be somethings that we can't "discuss" because it simply doesn't fit well with the format on Stackexchange. $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ If SE can't allow this kind of discussion then SE is the wrong place a Mathematics Education forum. I would rather believe though that this kind of topic can work within the SE framework and can't see why one way of looking things has to be so strictly adhered to. What happens here does not have to constitute a threat to the way things work on those SE sites that are already very successful. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ @GeoffPointer: And I disagree that we can't have good quality questions and answers that fit within the framework of Stackexchange. I think that there a lot of interesting topics to be explored. As I have requested in meta.matheducators.stackexchange.com/questions/36/… I hope a moderator will clarify for us to what extent we need to adhere to the basic philosophy of Stackexchange. All this said, I think we need to articulate what our borders are drawn. There should, of course be some room for opinion (like on philosopy.SE). $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ @GeoffPointer: I would recommend taking a look at: stackexchange.com/about $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ Of course I've already read that. I just find it dubious on many levels. (1) "You wouldn't shout out a calculus question in a football stadium, right? You'd go to the math department of a university." And in a maths department of a university I won't find SE overlords telling me how to frame my question or the expert's reply. (2) "We don't open a site until we're sure there's a critical mass of experts ready to participate." Surely these experts, on a field by field basis are the ones who should determine what are the means of discourse appropriate to their field, not the SE overlords. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ @GeoffPointer: On point (1): You are, of course free to disagree with the general philosophy. On point (2): I agree that the participants are the ones who will determine how we will actually run things. But again, I believe that SE still sets up the frame work for us to make those determinations. Again: Hopefully a moderator could address this. $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ The 7 Essential Meta Questions of Every Beta 1. Are questions about [subject] on or off topic? Primarily, the experts in the associated field should be determining this. Obviously fields evolve and ideas date. The best mathematicians are more often than not, not the best teachers and vice versa. I'm mostly interested in the opinion of experts in the field of Mathematics Education. This site should not be moderated by a majority of practicing mathematicians unless the two were to intersect. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ TeX.SE has their own version of the rules, for example, they allow list type questions and have some vastly helpful list type questions suitable for TeX/LaTeX developers and that site functions very well. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ @GeoffPointer: I think the site should be moderated by the people who use the site. I don't think that we should exclude someone just because they are mathematicians. We should only evaluate things based on what people do and say, not on who they are or where they are from. $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 1:51
  • $\begingroup$ @GeoffPointer: About tex.SE, I again want to point out that on tex.stackexchange.com/about it says: "This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat." There are a lot of ways we can determine how we want to do things. And I think we can allow all kinds of questions. The only thing I am saying we shouldn't encourage is questions that don't actually have answers. Questions that just solicits a back-and-forward type of discussion. $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ let us continue this discussion in chat $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ I am a TeX.SE regular with a reputation over a thousand. You're not really answering my question. I don't do chat. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 2:19

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